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  • Writer's pictureJeanette Micallef

Saying Goodbye, with Gratitude

Ten years was not close to enough time for us -- Stubby and I were soulmates, best friends, snuggle buddies.

It was only a week between the seizure and his back legs giving out, and then a day later he stopped eating and drinking. I knew it was his time.

No matter how much you don't want a pet you love to suffer, there's this part of you that fights so hard against letting them go. There's an emotional grip, as though this might be the one and only time you get to experience unconditional love -- and for the briefest of moments, you think, selfishly, of all the ways you could make them stay.

But they are so much wiser than us, and they know infinitely more. They live in each moment and don't fear the next, neither do they regret what has passed. I firmly believe they exist to teach us to be more like them, to be better. They are guides on the path to our own enlightenment.

They also teach us about grief. Debilitating, life-altering, gut-wrenching sadness...and how to take a deep breath and carry on. For me, it has been a series of deep breaths, over and over again, every time the tears start, but I know, at some point I will have the strength to let go.

With each dog I have had to say goodbye to, I ask them to let me know when it is time -- to give me "the look" when they are ready -- and I will do what it takes to help them go peacefully and with dignity. Stubby gave me that look immediately after I asked him. I was stunned. I was not prepared. I second-guessed and delayed. I wasn't sure, but he was. It was only 24 hours later that we took him to the vet to let him go.

He was like a puppy again on the car ride, and though his back legs weren't working, he wanted desperately to see out the front window. So, I held him on my lap where he could see everything. He was so happy. At the vet, they took him in on a gurney, and he was all wiggles because he got to meet new people. Meeting new people was his favorite thing. Especially the ones who weren't afraid of him because he was a Pitbull.

He even wiggled at the doctor who came to administer the medication that would ultimately take him from us. He didn't care what she was there for -- he wanted to meet her, and wiggle at her and bring some joy to her life.

And when she put the fluid into his IV, I saw his body relax as all the pain in him left. I held his head, told him how grateful I was and how much I loved him. And then, I saw his little light leave his beautiful brown eyes. He was gone.

I have zero doubt that dogs have souls. As a matter of fact, I believe they are more enlightened beings than we are, and we should be so lucky to be loved by a dog, especially in the unenlightened state us humans seem to generally exist in.

I know we made the right choice, and I know I honored Stubby's wishes as best I could. I also know what happens afterward, once you get home and have to deal with the grief.

It comes in waves -- each time you find a toy under a piece of furniture, or a wiry hair stuck in the fabric of your bra, it washes over you again. He also left a little brother behind, Bernie, who lost his oldest brother, Buddy, in 2019 and Stubby this week. Now he's an only dog.

So, I am channeling my grief into love, asking myself, "What would Stubby do?", and Stubby would live in the moment. Stubby would carry on. Stubby would want to go out on walks and meet new people. Stubby would want adventures with his family, and cookies, and snuggle time on his couch. Stubby would forget all about that pain, because it is in the past, and "Mom, don't you know, the past doesn't matter anymore? It's in the past."

But us humans hold onto our pain with tentacles. If we lose grip with one, there's always another one undulating nearby, ready to latch on. I guess I think if I let go, I will forget -- dishonor or invalidate the time he was here. So, I am making it my mission to do my level best to be like the dogs in my life, to be in each moment, look for pleasure, and let go of what I don't like -- to be a wiggly ball of love in every situation.

Buddy, my Puggle, was my first dog. He was a puppy mill dog that I bought from a lady on Craigslist. Today is the anniversary of his passing, three years ago. Buddy was wise beyond his years, and the list of things I learned from him was long. Here are a few:

  1. If you are done, give it the butt. Turn your back on it completely, and go to sleep.

  2. Cuteness will get you far, but being good will get you farther.

  3. When you've done what you need to for the day, let yourself lay about and relax. Enjoy life!

  4. Keep a balance of together time and alone time.

  5. Be your own dog, always.

Stubby was a very different dog from Buddy, and at first, we weren't sure he was very bright at all. He had a big blank stare which we eventually learned was just his wide-eyed innocence and openness to the world and to new experiences. Only three days after losing him, it's a bit more raw finding the lessons he taught me, and channeling gratefulness, but I know it's what he would do, so I'll do the work. Here goes:

  1. Take time to look out the window -- any window, all windows. There's always something interesting to see.

  2. Never underestimate the value of comfort. Get under blankets!

  3. Meet new people with enthusiasm and happiness.

  4. Grrrr-ing isn't always bad. It's important to express yourself.

  5. Shatter incorrect perceptions by always being your best self, and not what anyone else thinks you are.

It is our furry little love, Bernie, who now remains. He has had the benefits of learning behaviors from his brothers, but is still very much his own dog. He is still young and has many more years ahead of him -- more things to experience and more personality to show. I am already beginning to learn who he is as an individual. So is he.

  1. Sometimes you need to howl until you get what you want.

  2. Be like a cat. Looking disinterested gets more attention from your people.

  3. Be excited about life every day. Every day is an adventure waiting to be had.

  4. It's okay to run and hide if something scares you. Just be sure to come back and face it when you can.

  5. Do what you want, when you want -- your life is yours.

Sometimes the littlest dog gets less attention than the bigger, older ones. I am looking forward to seeing who Bernie is as the "big dog" in the house, and, for now, an "only child", soaking up all the love and attention we can give him.

So, I will continue on my path with gratitude, and I will feel what I feel fully, and then let it go. I will remember these beautiful souls and the gifts they have given me on my path, and never lose sight of their lessons. I will hold the ones that have gone, close to my heart and the one that is here, close in my arms. I will always rescue dogs, love dogs, cherish dogs, and give them a pain-free rest when that is what they need. And I will always be full of gratitude for all they have given me.

Rest in peace, Buddy the Puggle (2004 - 2019)

Rest in peace, Sargent Stubby (2012 - 2022)

You are loved, and you are missed.

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